Marine Energy Devices Likely Pose Minimal Impacts to Marine Life, Report Shows
June 17, 2020

A 2020 State of the Science Report on marine renewable energy (MRE) was released last week, reflecting the most comprehensive international analysis of potential interactions of MRE devices and associated infrastructure with the animals and habitats that make up the marine environment. The report was developed and peer reviewed by more than 60 international experts and scientists. Integral senior science advisor and oceanographer Grace Chang, Ph.D., is a coauthor, contributing to Chapter 7 research on potential changes in hydrodynamics (circulation and waves), sediment transport, and water quality related to MRE deployments.

Marine scientists from around the world spent the last 4 years reviewing numerous studies and other data on the possible environmental effects of MRE devices and found that the potential impact to marine life is likely small or undetectable. However, scientists say there is still uncertainty around some issues, as there have been relatively few sizable deployments of MRE devices.

Dr. Chang collaborated with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in coauthoring Chapter 7, titled “Changes in Oceanographic Systems Associated with Marine Renewable Energy Devices.” The chapter reviews the latest field and laboratory research and modeling studies on anticipated changes in flow and related processes as the result of MRE deployments, and provides guidance for future studies. Given that no large-scale arrays have yet been deployed, understanding these processes will help protect against future effects.

The 2020 State of the Science Report was released by Ocean Energy Systems (OES)-Environmental, which is supported by the International Energy Agency. PNNL leads OES-Environmental for the United States on behalf of U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and is a key contributor to the report.

MRE is generated from ocean waves, tides, and currents. Devices like tidal energy converters extract power from tidal currents and convert it into electricity. It is important to understand potential interactions between MRE devices and the organisms that live, feed, and migrate past these devices so that renewable energy from the ocean can be harvested sustainably. Developing a fraction of available marine energy in U.S. waters could result in clean, reliable power for millions of American homes, reduce the carbon footprint from energy production, and could add $3 trillion to the global economy.

View PNNL video on MRE.

Dr. Chang has contributed to more than 40 peer-reviewed publications, advancing the state-of-the science in her field. Her research currently includes collaborative efforts supported by DOE and the California Energy Commission, involving technology development for MRE device and environmental monitoring, numerical modeling of potential environmental effects, and facilitating MRE device deployment through efficient project permitting. For more information, contact Dr. Chang at